WICHITA, Kan. - The Kansas National Guard held its annual Joint Conference over the course of four days beginning March 20, hosted by the 184th Intelligence Wing. The conference brought Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen from around the state to the Hyatt in downtown Wichita.
The conference included members the National Guard Association of Kansas, and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of Kansas, and provided a setting for each association to discuss ideas that are important to Guardsmen, their families and retirees.
Friday morning offered events throughout Wichita and the surrounding area. Members of the Army and Air National Guard participated in a golf tournament at Braeburn Golf Course and the 5K President’s Run. The run was held on the bike path that stretches along the Arkansas River just outside of the Hyatt.
The golf tournament and fun run promoted camaraderie among both the Army and Air components of the Kansas National Guard allowing a way for Guardsmen to meet others that they may work with in the future. Both events take place every year as part of the NGAKS conference.
The association also held a shotgun shooting match on Friday at the Michael Murphy and Sons shooting range.
“This is a good team-building event that brings together Guardsmen from across the state with different skill levels to compete and socialize,” said 1st Lt. Rachel Watson, 161st Intelligence Squadron.
Watson finished among the top female shooters, along with Senior Airman Tiffany Cooper, who was the top overall female shooter. The men’s top shooter was Maj. Todd Kavouras, director, Smoky Hill Weapons Range. Kavouras and Lt. Col. Gary Nash, commander, 284th Air Support Operations Squadron, finished as the top shooting team in the men’s competition.
Recognizing the importance of family time, the committee planned a family fun night that evening in the Hyatt ballroom. Children enjoyed games, food and bounce houses to play in. The Wichita State University basketball game was shown on a big projection screen for the diehard Shockers fans.
On Saturday morning, members attended the joint session. Speakers at the joint session included Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer; retired Col. Pete Duffy, legislative director representing NGAUS; Col. J.J. Jordan, commander, 184th Intelligence Wing; and Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, adjutant general, Kansas National Guard.
Jordan offered a common sense point of view.
“My wife sometimes says to me, ‘You know, Jeff, things don’t just magically happen,’” Jordan said as he briefed the importance of associations that represent the National Guard.
Tafanelli briefed some of the proposed changes to the force structure. He listed possible losses and gains for Army and Air National Guard units across the nation, and how the changes could affect units in Kansas.
During his brief, Tafanelli stressed readiness, Soldier and Airman care, and better communication as the three main focus items for the next year.
Readiness factors included unit strength, medical readiness and effective manning. He explained that each organization has high control over their readiness, and improving it will keep them from being “low hanging-fruit.”
“Don’t make it easy for the Department of Defense to cut us,” said Tafanelli. “We have to take care of the basics.”
Tafanelli expressed the importance of taking care of Soldiers and Airmen while improving communication.
With technology and social media changing the way information is distributed, Kansas National Guard leaders discussed ways to find the most effective systems to pass information. Tafanelli challenged officers and enlisted personnel to learn how fellow Guardsmen prefer to be informed.
“We often find that on the same issue, depending on whether you’re enlisted or you’re officer, you may have a different perspective on the same topic,” said Tafanelli. “So this is an opportunity to get that input and really solve the problems.”
Following the joint session, attendees broke out into separate meetings based on their rank. During each session, personnel participated in professional development, feedback and were given an opportunity to voice their concerns.
Most of the festivities ended Saturday night with a formal banquet. Both associations held board meetings on Sunday to close out the conference.
Like Jordan said, things don’t just magically happen. The planning for this year’s conference began in 2013 when he appointed Lt. Col. Craig Garcia, commander, 184th Operations Support Squadron, to lead the planning committee.
“Overall, the entire planning process and execution went extremely well over the past year,” said Garcia.
Garcia requested the help of Capt. Naomi Hume of the 134th Air Control Squadron to gather the volunteers and personnel required to make the conference a success.
“Captain Hume was pivotal in the process, and I can’t say enough about all the folks from across the 184th Intelligence Wing that stepped up and contributed to making this an outstanding conference,” said Garcia. “Our folks were simply outstanding!”
The volunteers, both military and civilian, came from all over the state with a majority of them being first-term Airmen.
“When it comes down to it, there is no way that conferences like this can come together without volunteers,” said Hume. “We just don’t have the resources to hire people to do all the work.”
The volunteers helped with all of the previously mentioned events as well as the youth and spouse events, registration, communications and hospitality rooms.
“Every one of those events were planned and executed by volunteers. I encourage everyone to get involved in the upcoming years as it’s a great networking experience,” said Hume.
The planning didn’t come without challenges. Garcia explained that the biggest challenge over the past year was the logistical coordination of the event due to the geographical separation of NGAKS board personnel and the 184th IW.
“Overcoming those hurdles is a testament to the proactive and quality folks we have in the 184th,” said Garcia.